Fenwick makes move to expand dock allowances

Many Fenwick Island property owners who were not previously permitted to have a dock at their canal-side or lagoon-side properties may soon have that option. The Fenwick Island Town Council, at its April 22 meeting, heard a first reading of a proposed ordinance change that would allow docks on canals 50 feet in width or wider.

The change decreases the minimum required width for a dock from 60 feet. That would allow approximately one third of the property owners who had previously been precluded from having docks to do so. Council Member Harry Haon said the town’s waterfront properties were about evenly divided between those on canals 60 feet or wider, those 50 to 60 feet in width and those below 50 feet in width.

That final third will still be precluded from having a dock, under the change in the ordinance.

Haon said the change had come about after Building Inspector Patricia Schuchman discovered the town’s requirements for a dock were more stringent than those of the state Department of Natural Resources (DNREC) and other neighboring communities.

Schuchman said she had received a number of requests over the years for dock construction where the 50-foot width requirement was met but not the 60-foot requirement that was in place in the town. Those requests had to be turned down.

The reduced width requirements were permitted on the grounds that they still allow enough free space for the passage of two pontoon boats, side by side, with docks on both side of the canal.

The width of the docks themselves is also changed in the ordinance, from 4 feet to 5 feet, to better allow storage of small craft such as kayaks and sailboards on the dock surfaces.

Council members unanimously approved the ordinance at first reading, scheduling a public hearing on the ordinance for Friday, May 20, at 3 p.m.

Resident Wayne Carmean suggested the town consider allowances for property owners on canals narrower than 50 feet, including the idea of allowing new single-arm boatlifts that have a smaller profile than conventional lifts.

Clark said such lifts (including the one at his home) allow boats to be stored in less space than simply tying the vessel up to a dock, generally extending into canals no farther than the center width of the boat.

Haon asked Wayne Carmean to research the issue for possible inclusion in ordinance revisions in time for a May council meeting or at a later date.

Also receiving unanimous approval from the council on April 22 was a resolution approving the town’s planned junior lifeguard program and the associated $35 fee.

Council Member Vicki Carmean said she had received some comments on the fee, saying that the town shouldn’t charge more for the program than the actual cost to the town.

Allowing that the town could potentially make $1 to $2 in profit on each enrollee if his estimates proved on the high side, Lifeguard Captain Tim Ferry detailed the cost breakdown he had used in determining the amount of the fee:

• $10 membership in the U.S. Lifesaving Association (USLA) Junior Lifeguard Program, entitling the child to participate in competitions (if the program allows) and receive the USLA magazine;

• $14 to $18 (estimated) cost for a bag, T-shirt and hat with the junior lifeguard program logo; and costs associated with the extra lifeguard hours needed to manage the program.

Ferry further noted that the program includes supervision, enabling parents to have some free time, as well as providing the public service of educating children about water safety. Council Member Chris Clark responded to the accounting by saying it didn’t sound like the town was charging enough, at $35.

Council President Peter Frederick supported the concept that the $35 fee would encourage those signing up for the program to actually attend. Carmean said the program seemed well organized and acknowledged it couldn’t be done free of charge.

Before the vote, Haon noted that some had mentioned the town’s rule against selling things on the beach but emphasized that he believed the junior lifeguard program was different, being provided by the town (essentially) at cost, offering no concrete product and seating registration functions at the town hall, rather than on the beach.

Council members received a resolution offered by Council Member Martha Keller with less warmth, voting 5-1 to reject it, with Keller in favor and Theo Brans absent.

The opponents of the resolution were unanimous in their reasoning: Keller’s motion stated that the council — as a body — supported the use of impact fees and coordination of the county’s development approval process with DelDOT to control development according to infrastructure.

While the principle may have appealed to individual council members, each of those present argued that some of the controls Keller requested were already in place, and that regardless of the methods she proposed to encourage, the town council had no business telling the county council how to do its job.

Instead, each encouraged individual citizens to voice their concerns as residents of the county — Keller included. Haon also suggested Keller avail herself of other venues, such as the Association of Coastal Towns (ACT), to maximize the impact of citizens’ desires on the county council. Keller replied that she had considered ACT but also wanted to get moving on the issue while momentum was with it — at the beginning of the heavily populated (and trafficked) summer season.

Clark further said he felt that when members of the town council went outside its borders they had to be particularly careful as to whom they indicated they were representing, and not to suggest that they represented the town in any official capacity unless authorized to speak for the entire council or town.

Clark also presented his own proposal at the April 22 meeting, offering a donation policy that had been developed at the request of the council. Under his proposal, the town would donate $1,000 each August to the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company and to the Millville Volunteer Fire Company’s ambulance service. A $150 annual donation would be made to the Friends of the Fenwick Island Lighthouse, he said.

Extending the policy, the town would support not-for-profit activity through non-monetary means, such as allowing select groups to use town mailing lists or town facilities.

Finally, the proposed policy would allow for $1,000 to be used for various donations to non-profit groups in five $100 amounts and 10 $50 amounts, selected among those groups applying for donations to the town and determined to promote community welfare.

While the first two concepts were generally supported, the final one brought opposition from other council members as too broad in scope. Carmean said she fell on the side of taxpayers in the town who felt the town shouldn’t be “in the business of giving out tax dollars.”

Frederick quibbled with Clark’s choice of words, emphasizing that towns make grants, not donations. But he further said he was concerned because the policy did not define who was eligible for the last class of grants, leaving open the possibility of donations to politicians by deeming their activities to be ones of community welfare.

Frederick also placed the town’s donation of “a $600,000 piece of land for 99 years” to the BBVFC in the category of ongoing or long-term donations to the company, resisting previous calls by Haon to substantially increase the town’s donation to that group.

Keller said she felt the town’s donations should be confined to those services that the town itself would provide if it were larger and financially capable — such as the fire and ambulance services. She also championed the inclusion of the Marine Education, Research & Rehabilitation Institute (MERR) as a service for townsfolk in its mission to rescue stranded marine life from the town’s beaches and those of neighboring locales.

Haon, as on previous occasions, said he felt the town had been giving only a token amount to the BBVFC and ambulance service in past years and that “substantial” donations should be considered. He also said he felt the lighthouse was appropriate for the town to support. Beyond those organizations, he drew a firm line.

Council Member Audrey Serio said she had mixed feelings about the issue. She cited her personal inclination toward generous giving and said she felt the town had been late in supporting the lighthouse. She also said she had strong feelings about supporting the BBVFC, especially with a business in Bethany Beach. But additional donations by the town, beyond those organizations and the ambulance service, were not something she supported.

Clark noted that he had followed the town’s past pattern of giving in developing the policy, pointing to previous donations to Little League teams and Bethany Beach Fourth of July parade organizers. But he said he supported whatever was felt to be best for the town.

Frederick said he supported the grants to the service providers, but recommended the amount be determined during the budget process, according to the town’s financial status at that time. Carmean said she thought the policy needed some additional thought and discussion before a decision was made, and council members agreed to table the issue for a later time.

Feelings were decidedly mixed on how to proceed with oft-discussed plans to expand the Fenwick Island town hall or build a new facility. Frederick brought forward a proposal from engineering firm Davis, Bowen & Friedel for a series of planning steps to determine usage needs and eventual plans that could be implemented in the design of the town hall.

Opposition to the idea primarily took the form of questions about whether the town should consider its needs — through the council, citizen input or employee input — prior to contracting with an engineer for services.

Haon particularly championed discussion of the needs of the town before any further steps were taken. Serio, on the other hand, said she felt a professional review of the existing facilities was needed to give the town officials an idea what would or would not be possible within the existing footprint. Clark said he felt the engineering process outlined in the proposal allowed for a solid needs assessment.

Keller proposed the town use a venue such as the regular “workshop without agenda” to hold discussion on the needs for the town hall and brainstorm on possible uses.

Frederick emphasized that he envisioned the project as likely to take five years to complete, saying that it had been in a stage of “what if” for four years and would need forward momentum of some sort to get it out of that stage.

Council members agreed to table the issue until each could consider how best to proceed, as well as the possible needs for the new facility.

Also at the April 22 meeting:

• Frederick noted completion of a draft for the town’s informational brochure, particularly emphasizing the work of town hall employees. The brochure outlines the town’s regulations and other basic information. Council members were due to review the draft, in anticipation of a print run of $2,500 copies to be distributed to renters, real estate companies, retail shops, hotels and at town hall.

• Progress of the case against Libby’s restaurant was reported, with two guilty findings and a fine of $5,000 reduced to $3,000 as a result of the business’ second bar (in violation of town ordinance). Frederick said Libby’s had been given 10 days to remove the bar once formal notice was given, with conformation to the town’s code, license fees and back taxes to be paid before its business license could be renewed.

However, Frederick said the business was in bankruptcy proceedings, a sheriff’s sale put off and the state alcohol control board notified of the lack of license. He said the town’s only option for enforcement against the business was to continue to file citations and take them to court. The town cannot “close” the business.

• Frederick also reported delays in the town’s legal case with former police officer William Manning; and a fine paid by Royal Farms with no admittance of guilt in the town’s case against the convenience store.

• Public Works Supervisor Neil Hanrahan noted slow but substantial progress on the town’s median beautification project, with three medians cleared of concrete and partially readied for planting and the remaining three medians set for work this week.

He estimated the project at 20 percent complete as of April 22 and noted DelDOT approval of cable/utility line locations with expectation of approval for the remaining medians. The trees planned for the project were also allowed a larger size, replacing the planned 5-gallon potted varieties with a 10- to 12-foot tall ball-and-burlap variety.

• The town’s police department is in the process of screening officers for a final part-time seasonal position, with plans to provide two officers on duty throughout the summer.

• Frederick noted that he had met with state representatives to finalize the town’s lifeguard coverage on the state beach at the town’s northern border. He said the state had offered only the $50,000 payment offered to the town in the previous year, despite cost overruns incurred in 2004.

But he did say the possibility of a joint town-state beach-cleaning project had been mentioned as additional payoff for the town. The details of the idea remained tentative, with the state to possibly provide the cleaning machine while town employees and vehicles would actually run it. Two parking spots for town staff were also to be provided on Fenwick Avenue, helping alleviate a parking problem from 2004.

Ferry noted that the state’s budget for lifeguard service north of Fenwick Island was actually considerably less than the $50,000 that had been offered to the town.

• Carmean said she was pursuing possible grants for a “living fence” on the street side of the town’s recycling drop-off location. She requested approval for the cost of a professional landscape plan, if needed for the grants, but was asked to hold off on such a plan until it was determined it was definitely needed.

• Resident John Belian announced an organization meeting for the Fenwick Island Fishing Club, set for May 4 at 10 a.m. at the town hall.

• Council unanimously approved a contract for review of building permits, site inspections and annual assessments for properties in the town, at a cost of $4,950. Haon noted that the assessor has kept detailed property records for the town, since 1976, while Schuchman noted duplicate copies of records are also kept specifically for safety purposes.

• Frederick obtained consensus from council members and citizens in attendance that the town did not have a real need for its existing weather-monitoring station or a more expensive and expansive service. The $97 monthly charge could have become as much as $149 per month under a proposal received by the town.

But support for the machine at those prices was decidedly lacking, with many residents pointing to Internet access as an inexpensive way to obtain much the same information.

The next Fenwick Island Town Council meeting is set for May 20, at 3:30 p.m., to be preceded by a 3 p.m. special meeting on the dock ordinance. A workshop-without-agenda is set for May 14, at 9 a.m.